Will Trump Maintain Republican Support?

Jeet Heer writing for New Republic thinks yes:

These numbers make clear why a large chuck of Trump’s base won’t object to a budget that punitively targets the poor. Most of his voters are not poor, but regular old Republicans, for whom the budget released Thursday is just the latest version of policies they’ve supported since the Reagan era.

To be sure, some of Trump’s white working class supporters might become disillusioned once they realize the consequences of his policies. But it’s just as likely that they’ll be pleased, as will Trump’s larger coalition, by the restrictionist and isolationist aspects of his agenda, like his targeting of Muslim immigrants and plan to build a wall along the Mexican border.

Trump’s gamble, if indeed this is a witting strategy, is that he can hold his base together on a shared support for ethno-nationalism, with the bulk of economic benefits going to well-to-do Republicans. So far, to judge by the even keel of his poll numbers, his bet is working. This might change when Trump’s economic policies move from the realm of proposals to actual policies that affect everyday lives. But for now, the argument that Trump is betraying his base is just a rhetorical meme that has little bearing on how his voters feel about him.

Young Men are Playing More Videogames

That is a widely publicized fact based on new economic research. The Economist’s 1843 has a good article this issue (see also this EconTalk interview with Erik Hurst).

Here are some excerpts from the 1843 article (presented slightly out of order):

Over the last 15 years there has been a steady and disconcerting leak of young people away from the labour force in America. Between 2000 and 2015, the employment rate for men in their 20s without a college education dropped ten percentage points, from 82% to 72%. In 2015, remarkably, 22% of men in this group – a cohort of people in the most consequential years of their working lives – reported to surveyors that they had not worked at all in the prior 12 months. That was in 2015: when the unemployment rate nationwide fell to 5%, and the American economy added 2.7m new jobs. Back in 2000, less than 10% of such men were in similar circumstances.

What these individuals are not doing is clear enough, says Erik Hurst, an economist at the University of Chicago, who has been studying the phenomenon. They are not leaving home; in 2015 more than 50% lived with a parent or close relative. Neither are they getting married. What they are doing, Hurst reckons, is playing video games. As the hours young men spent in work dropped in the 2000s, hours spent in leisure activities rose nearly one-for-one. Of the rise in leisure time, 75% was accounted for by video games. It looks as though some small but meaningful share of the young-adult population is delaying employment or cutting back hours in order to spend more time with their video game of choice.

The shares of young high-school and college graduates not in work or education has risen; in 2014, about 11% of college graduates were apparently idle, compared with 9% in 2004 and 8% in 1994.

“Underemployment” – work in a position for which one is overqualified – has risen steadily since the beginning of the millennium; the share of recent college graduates working in jobs which did not require a college degree rose from just over 30% in the early 2000s to nearly 45% a decade later.

Our instinct, trained to see work as a critical component of adulthood and an obligation of healthy members of society, recoils at the thought of people spending their lives buried in alternate realities. How could society ever value time spent at games as it does time spent on “real” pursuits, on holidays with families or working in the back garden, to say nothing of time on the job? Yet it is possible that just as past generations did not simply normalise the ideal of time off but imbued it with virtue – barbecuing in the garden on weekends or piling the family into the car for a holiday – future generations might make hours spent each day on games something of an institution: an appropriate use of time that is the reward for society’s technological wizardry and productive power.

The designers of the game of life, such as they are, may have erred in structuring the game in a way that encourages young people to seek an alternate reality. They have spread the thrills and valuable items too thinly and have tweaked the settings to reward special skills that cannot be mastered easily even by those prepared to spend long hours doing so. Unsurprisingly, some players are giving up, while others are filling the time not taken up in rewarding, well-compensated work with games painstakingly designed to make them feel good.

 

Facts About Smoking

I surprised by many metrics in this paragraph:

Almost 80 percent of the world’s 1 billion smokers now live in low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2015 numbers showed that almost twice as many adults living below the poverty line than those above it smoked. Only 3.6 percent of adults with a graduate degree smoked cigarettes compared with 34.1 percent of GED-certificate holders. And for now, cigarettes continue to be the lifeblood of the industry. According to estimates from Euromonitor International, the global market for cigarettes in 2017 will be $717 billion vs. a mere $11.2 billion for all vapor and heated tobacco products combined.

That is from a new Bloomberg article. The article itself is about alternative tobacco technologies.

Not to be outdone, Reynolds has integrated Bluetooth wireless technology into two of its e-cigarette products. From a free smartphone app, users can track battery life or how many puffs they’ve taken that day. “VUSE is the most advanced e-cigarette and the first e-cigarette designed with Smart Technology,” the brand explains on its website. “The Vuse digital Vapor Cigarette contains a vapor delivery processor that uses algorithms in the same way a computer does, therefore it is ‘digital.’ ”

Consider the Lobster

That is the name of a very famous David Foster Wallace piece in Gourmet magazine. It is interesting throughout. For example this paragraph:

Up until sometime in the 1800s, though, lobster was literally low-class food, eaten only by the poor and institutionalized. Even in the harsh penal environment of early America, some colonies had laws against feeding lobsters to inmates more than once a week because it was thought to be cruel and unusual, like making people eat rats. One reason for their low status was how plentiful lobsters were in old New England. “Unbelievable abundance” is how one source describes the situation, including accounts of Plymouth pilgrims wading out and capturing all they wanted by hand, and of early Boston’s seashore being littered with lobsters after hard storms—these latter were treated as a smelly nuisance and ground up for fertilizer.

But it is most famous because of its ethical argument against eating lobster. In the same way that Hunter S. Thompson was sent to cover the Kentucky Derby for Scanlan’s Monthly 35 years prior and unexpectedly came back with what would become the first ever piece of Gonzo Journalism (“The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved“), Wallace was sent to cover the Maine Lobster Festival and returned to surprise readers with a thoughtful reflection on the ethics eating of lobster, down to the inner workings of the lobster’s neurological system. Remember again that this was published in Gourmet magazine! Few groups are likely to love lobster more than its readers.

Here is a key passage from Wallace’s piece.

There happen to be two main criteria that most ethicists agree on for determining whether a living creature has the capacity to suffer and so has genuine interests that it may or may not be our moral duty to consider.16 One is how much of the neurological hardware required for pain-experience the animal comes equipped with—nociceptors, prostaglandins, neuronal opioid receptors, etc. The other criterion is whether the animal demonstrates behavior associated with pain. And it takes a lot of intellectual gymnastics and behaviorist hairsplitting not to see struggling, thrashing, and lid-clattering as just such pain-behavior. According to marine zoologists, it usually takes lobsters between 35 and 45 seconds to die in boiling water. (No source I could find talked about how long it takes them to die in superheated steam; one rather hopes it’s faster.)

There are, of course, other fairly common ways to kill your lobster on-site and so achieve maximum freshness. Some cooks’ practice is to drive a sharp heavy knife point-first into a spot just above the midpoint between the lobster’s eyestalks (more or less where the Third Eye is in human foreheads). This is alleged either to kill the lobster instantly or to render it insensate—and is said at least to eliminate the cowardice involved in throwing a creature into boiling water and then fleeing the room. As far as I can tell from talking to proponents of the knife-in-the-head method, the idea is that it’s more violent but ultimately more merciful, plus that a willingness to exert personal agency and accept responsibility for stabbing the lobster’s head honors the lobster somehow and entitles one to eat it. (There’s often a vague sort of Native American spirituality-of-the-hunt flavor to pro-knife arguments.) But the problem with the knife method is basic biology: Lobsters’ nervous systems operate off not one but several ganglia, a.k.a. nerve bundles, which are sort of wired in series and distributed all along the lobster’s underside, from stem to stern. And disabling only the frontal ganglion does not normally result in quick death or unconsciousness. Another alternative is to put the lobster in cold salt water and then very slowly bring it up to a full boil. Cooks who advocate this method are going mostly on the analogy to a frog, which can supposedly be kept from jumping out of a boiling pot by heating the water incrementally. In order to save a lot of research-summarizing, I’ll simply assure you that the analogy between frogs and lobsters turns out not to hold.

Ultimately, the only certain virtues of the home-lobotomy and slow-heating methods are comparative, because there are even worse/crueler ways people prepare lobster. Time-thrifty cooks sometimes microwave them alive (usually after poking several extra vent holes in the carapace, which is a precaution most shellfish-microwavers learn about the hard way). Live dismemberment, on the other hand, is big in Europe: Some chefs cut the lobster in half before cooking; others like to tear off the claws and tail and toss only these parts in the pot.

And there’s more unhappy news respecting suffering-criterion number one. Lobsters don’t have much in the way of eyesight or hearing, but they do have an exquisite tactile sense, one facilitated by hundreds of thousands of tiny hairs that protrude through their carapace. “Thus,” in the words of T.M. Prudden’s industry classic About Lobster, “it is that although encased in what seems a solid, impenetrable armor, the lobster can receive stimuli and impressions from without as readily as if it possessed a soft and delicate skin.” And lobsters do have nociceptors,17 as well as invertebrate versions of the prostaglandins and major neurotransmitters via which our own brains register pain.

Lobsters do not, on the other hand, appear to have the equipment for making or absorbing natural opioids like endorphins and enkephalins, which are what more advanced nervous systems use to try to handle intense pain. From this fact, though, one could conclude either that lobsters are maybe even more vulnerable to pain, since they lack mammalian nervous systems’ built-in analgesia, or, instead, that the absence of natural opioids implies an absence of the really intense pain-sensations that natural opioids are designed to mitigate. I for one can detect a marked upswing in mood as I contemplate this latter possibility: It could be that their lack of endorphin/enkephalin hardware means that lobsters’ raw subjective experience of pain is so radically different from mammals’ that it may not even deserve the term pain. Perhaps lobsters are more like those frontal-lobotomy patients one reads about who report experiencing pain in a totally different way than you and I. These patients evidently do feel physical pain, neurologically speaking, but don’t dislike it—though neither do they like it; it’s more that they feel it but don’t feel anything about it—the point being that the pain is not distressing to them or something they want to get away from. Maybe lobsters, who are also without frontal lobes, are detached from the neurological-registration-of-injury-or-hazard we call pain in just the same way. There is, after all, a difference between (1) pain as a purely neurological event, and (2) actual suffering, which seems crucially to involve an emotional component, an awareness of pain as unpleasant, as something to fear/dislike/want to avoid.

How to Start a Startup Notes

My Cliff’s Notes from Paul Graham’s How to Start a Startup.

On the importance of ideas:

What matters is not ideas, but the people who have them. Good people can fix bad ideas, but good ideas can’t save bad people.

On who to sell to:

Start by writing software for smaller companies, because it’s easier to sell to them. It’s worth so much to sell stuff to big companies that the people selling them the crap they currently use spend a lot of time and money to do it. And while you can outhack Oracle with one frontal lobe tied behind your back, you can’t outsell an Oracle salesman. So if you want to win through better technology, aim at smaller customers. [4]

They’re the more strategically valuable part of the market anyway. In technology, the low end always eats the high end. It’s easier to make an inexpensive product more powerful than to make a powerful product cheaper. So the products that start as cheap, simple options tend to gradually grow more powerful till, like water rising in a room, they squash the “high-end” products against the ceiling. Sun did this to mainframes, and Intel is doing it to Sun. Microsoft Word did it to desktop publishing software like Interleaf and Framemaker. Mass-market digital cameras are doing it to the expensive models made for professionals. Avid did it to the manufacturers of specialized video editing systems, and now Apple is doing it to Avid. Henry Ford did it to the car makers that preceded him. If you build the simple, inexpensive option, you’ll not only find it easier to sell at first, but you’ll also be in the best position to conquer the rest of the market.

It’s very dangerous to let anyone fly under you. If you have the cheapest, easiest product, you’ll own the low end. And if you don’t, you’re in the crosshairs of whoever does.

On taking investor money vs. not:

I think it’s wise to take money from investors. To be self-funding, you have to start as a consulting company, and it’s hard to switch from that to a product company.

Financially, a startup is like a pass/fail course. The way to get rich from a startup is to maximize the company’s chances of succeeding, not to maximize the amount of stock you retain. So if you can trade stock for something that improves your odds, it’s probably a smart move.

On choosing a VC:

VCs form a pyramid. At the top are famous ones like Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins, but beneath those are a huge number you’ve never heard of. What they all have in common is that a dollar from them is worth one dollar…Basically, a VC is a source of money. I’d be inclined to go with whoever offered the most money the soonest with the least strings attached.

On spending money:

When and if you get an infusion of real money from investors, what should you do with it? Not spend it, that’s what. In nearly every startup that fails, the proximate cause is running out of money. Usually there is something deeper wrong. But even a proximate cause of death is worth trying hard to avoid.

On being first to market:

I think in most businesses the advantages of being first to market are not so overwhelmingly great

[…]

Since this was the era of “get big fast,” I worried about how small and obscure we were. But in fact we were doing exactly the right thing. Once you get big (in users or employees) it gets hard to change your product. That year was effectively a laboratory for improving our software. By the end of it, we were so far ahead of our competitors that they never had a hope of catching up. And since all the hackers had spent many hours talking to users, we understood online commerce way better than anyone else.

[…]

To make something users love, you have to understand them. And the bigger you are, the harder that is. So I say “get big slow.” The slower you burn through your funding, the more time you have to learn.

Many companies take the advice below too far (as in “we never need to make a profit”):

One of my favorite bumper stickers reads “if the people lead, the leaders will follow.” Paraphrased for the Web, this becomes “get all the users, and the advertisers will follow.” More generally, design your product to please users first, and then think about how to make money from it. If you don’t put users first, you leave a gap for competitors who do.

On maximizing productivity:

The key to productivity is for people to come back to work after dinner. Those hours after the phone stops ringing are by far the best for getting work done. Great things happen when a group of employees go out to dinner together, talk over ideas, and then come back to their offices to implement them. So you want to be in a place where there are a lot of restaurants around, not some dreary office park that’s a wasteland after 6:00 PM. Once a company shifts over into the model where everyone drives home to the suburbs for dinner, however late, you’ve lost something extraordinarily valuable. God help you if you actually start in that mode.

On hiring

The most important way to not spend money is by not hiring people. I may be an extremist, but I think hiring people is the worst thing a company can do. To start with, people are a recurring expense, which is the worst kind. They also tend to cause you to grow out of your space, and perhaps even move to the sort of uncool office building that will make your software worse. But worst of all, they slow you down: instead of sticking your head in someone’s office and checking out an idea with them, eight people have to have a meeting about it. So the fewer people you can hire, the better.

On lessons learned:

I spent a year working for a software company to pay off my college loans. It was the worst year of my adult life, but I learned, without realizing it at the time, a lot of valuable lessons about the software business. In this case they were mostly negative lessons: don’t have a lot of meetings; don’t have chunks of code that multiple people own; don’t have a sales guy running the company; don’t make a high-end product; don’t let your code get too big; don’t leave finding bugs to QA people; don’t go too long between releases; don’t isolate developers from users; don’t move from Cambridge to Route 128.

On who should start a startup:

If you want to do it, do it. Starting a startup is not the great mystery it seems from outside. It’s not something you have to know about “business” to do. Build something users love, and spend less than you make. How hard is that?

Is Trump Hitler?

Dan McLaughlin writing for National Review says no (his piece is about what fronts Congressional Republicans should oppose Trump).

But for all of Trump’s authoritarian instincts, he’s not Hitler. Hitler in 1933 was 44, a political fanatic and hardened combat veteran of World War I with a decade’s experience leading a violent street movement full of his fellow veterans. Trump is 70, a political dilettante who’s addicted to cable TV, has spent most of his life making real-estate deals, and commands a political base disproportionately composed of people in their 60s and 70s. Moreover, America is not Weimar Germany, which was then a 15-year-old democracy crumbling amidst hyperinflation, a global Depression, and the loss of a war that killed 13 percent of its military-age men. We have a long history of absorbing and co-opting fringe movements into our remarkably durable two-party system, and that’s exactly what the rest of Republican leadership is trying to do with Trump.